The first in our “Evolution” series of restrospectives examining different facets of local living
Evolution It started in 1979 with an idea and eight pages … and my, how we’ve changed!
As Tallahassee Magazine enters its 30th year, we decided to take a look back and see what else has “evolved” along with the area’s signature lifestyle publication. Over the next seven issues, we will be offering special feature sections highlighting 16 different areas of interest. Stories, photos and graphics will show how the world has changed – and how changes in Tallahassee fit into that big picture.
Keeping Up with the DataWe’ve Become a ‘Worldwise’ Culture Thanks to a Blending of Communications Technologies
By Jason Dehart
In 1979, the Japanese – always on the cutting edge of new technology – set up the first commercial cellular phone system to demonstrate the future of personal communications.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, most Tallahasseeans worried about the high cost of making long-distance calls (and untangling their phone cords).
“Used to be you’d have to make a long distance call and it was a big thing. Nowadays you hear, ‘I’ve got 1,200 minutes, how am I going to use them?’” says Charles McClure, the Francis Eppes Professor of Information Studies and director of the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at Florida State University.
McClure may not have been around Tallahassee in the late ’70s, but he has kept track of how our communication and information processing capabilities have changed over the past 30 years.
One thing’s for sure: No trend-spotter in the era of disco and Darth Vader could have imagined how far the technology would go.
“Basically, no one had a clue 30 years ago it would turn out the way it is now,” McClure says. “Take a look at the Internet. Today, we can do electronic medicine where a doctor at Johns Hopkins can look at an MRI scan of somebody in South Dakota, in real time. Those kinds of advances are amazing.”
Back to cell phones for a moment. Here’s a brief evolutionary timeline of this modern marvel, once considered the realm of science fiction (seen once a week on “Star Trek” reruns): Dr. Martin Cooper, a Motorola “brainiac,” is credited with making the first cell phone call in 1973. Four years later, Bell Labs and AT&T created the first prototype cellular system. In 1979, the Japanese set up their first network in Tokyo. The first commercial cellular system in the United States was nearly useless thanks to the limited service – and by the fact that the phones themselves were astronomically expensive. The Motorola DynaTac 8000X, also known as “The Brick” for its heft and blocky appearance, was priced around $4,000. Very few people had the means to afford such a device. Also, very few, if any, could see that in 30 years, descendants of The Brick would be jostling around in the backpacks, purses and pockets of millions worldwide.
“People can’t live without a cell phone,” McClure says. “People don’t even have phones at home anymore. It’s an entirely different world, and it’s changed how we interact with each other.”
Another technological wonder that grew up with the cell phone is, of course, the personal computer. In 1979, you would have found computers performing research and development duties at universities and labs. The only thing close to a commercially successful, home-based personal computer was the Altair 8800, an unglamorous do-it-yourself machine only hobbyists attempted to mess with. Introduced around 1975, the Altair’s lasting claim to fame is that a little company called Microsoft was founded to write software, known as BASIC, for it. The rest is history.
Next came the IBM personal computer and Steve Jobs’ Apple II. It doesn’t take a historian to see how successful those two ventures turned out. They turned the world of information processing on its ear. Recipes, taxes, business inventories, budgets – there were programs for just about every application in home and business. And when “word processing” came out, the venerable IBM Selectric typewriter – with its soothing hum and loud mechanical chatter – went the way of the dodo.
“When I first came out of college, my first books were written on a typewriter,” McClure says. “I can’t imagine doing that on a typewriter (today), or just writing a letter. The monumental changes that have occurred are amazing.”
Meanwhile, e-mail waited in the wings. Electronic mail actually predates personal computers by some 20 years, but it wasn’t until the widespread use of PCs happened that e-mail could become available to the masses. The Internet – a product of Cold War research and development – followed suit. It has put the world at our fingertips.
“To a large degree, people over the last 30 years have become much more world-wise,” McClure says. “It’s almost impossible to not know what’s going on in different parts of the world. Thirty years ago, what happened in the local community was big stuff, but that’s not true anymore. It’s pretty easy to know what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
More than that, this info makes people want to explore the world they see on the Internet.
“The communications world has opened up these avenues; they don’t want to just look at it, they want to go there,” McClure says. “The whole idea of luxury and free time has changed drastically compared to the ’70s. I don’t know if it’s more free time, or disposable income – for me it was a big deal just to go visit my grandmother 200 miles away.”
It’s not just an Internet addiction, either. Music-sharing devices such as MP3 players and iPods challenge the conventional model of how we own and enjoy audio entertainment. Thirty years ago, you were lucky if the latest Olivia Newton John LP was available down at the TG&Y store. Now, of course, if you’re online and have an iPod, you can download anything in a matter of minutes.
Personal data assistants, or PDAs, are another modern marvel that can do just about everything – if you’re hip enough to figure out how they work. That’s another interesting phenomenon, McClure says.
“I look at the kids in my class, and they have no fear of iPods or handhelds and laptops, but people who are 55 and older look at this stuff and they have no clue,” he says. “I have a coffeemaker that will grind the coffee right before it brews it, and to program it you really have to know what the hell you’re doing.”
But wait – aren’t these devices supposed to give us more free time? It hasn’t worked out that way.
“A lot of people have used free time to do more work,” McClure says. “Life has gotten considerably more complicated. The good news is we have these ‘time-saving’ devices, but the bad news is we have to learn (how to use) these complicated things. The typical user of Microsoft Word only uses about 25 percent of its capabilities. So we have all these things, but it usually outpaces what people actually do with it.”
From the Pages of Tallahassee Magazine: Here’s How We Covered The Office Technology Fads of 1990
Pagers, cellular phones, fax machines and personal computers all were in their infancy when Tallahassee Magazine published a three-part series devoted to these new wonders of the modern age in late 1990 and early 1991.
The series focused on how these marvels were already making a big impact in business communication:
“In business, every advantage means additional profit or market share, and innovations that provide an edge quickly find acceptance,” wrote freelance writer Andi Reynolds. “Cellular telephone technology, only seven years old, recently rocketed past the “bug” phase and is fast becoming an integral part of ordinary business practice.”
Sensing that the new technology was more than just a “bug,” service providers quickly sprang into action, too.
“Nobody Even Comes Close,” touts an ad for Porta-Phone Beepers, a Tallahassee pager provider.
“Even when you’re out of the office, you’re never out of touch,” declared an ad for Centel Cellular, which marketed portable phones with “unlimited access throughout Tallahassee.”
Reynolds quotes Rudy Reece, director of relations for North Florida for Cellular One, as saying in a 1990 story, “You can get a mobile phone, installed, in Tallahassee for as little as $399. A more typical cost is around $800-$900 for portable models.”
Even at this early stage, the advantages of the new portable phones were obvious.
Reynolds wrote: “Perhaps the most significant change is where we now do our business, because the need to check in at the office to be in touch with the office has been all but eliminated by cellular phones … Real estate agents and contractors, accustomed to working out of their cars or trucks a great deal anyway, no longer need to be in an office except to close a sale, look at plans or write up reports.”
Meanwhile, the fax machine – an invention that existed even before the conventional telephone – was another newfangled office oddity quickly gaining acceptance in the early 1990s.
“Once the machines were standardized in 1980, the fax became a necessary piece of office equipment,” Reynolds wrote. “It is obviously here to stay. Nationally, sales jumped 12 percent from 1988 to 1989, and 28 percent from 1989 to 1990.
“As with cellular phones, even if business people think they are buying a toy, they never let go of them once they have them. Many executives are finding that doing business without one isn’t nearly as efficient as owning one,” she wrote.
Pagers were another executive toy that proved useful. Before the universal use of BlackBerry devices and cell phones, pagers were the way to go. They even took exotic forms – Motorola Inc. and Seiko introduced versions of a “wristwatch pager” in 1990 that sold for around $300.
“Certainly one of the most captivating communications devices to come along is the “Dick Tracy” wristwatch pager, predicted years ago by the late cartoon creator Chester Gould and available now,” Reynolds wrote.
However, like other ideas that seemed to make sense at the time, the wristwatch pager never really took off. But the services provided by other conventional pagers were just as exotic for the time and foreshadowed the services provided today by the Internet.
“In the stock market you can subscribe to a service that will page you when the stocks you are interested in reach a certain price,” Reynolds wrote in 1990. “Interested in sports? Need to know weather or flight information? Dependent on late-breaking news? These services are in development. Suddenly, no more radio or television dependency.”
Of course, the Internet wouldn’t have been possible without the widespread use of the personal computer – but before there was the World Wide Web, PCs and early Macs were used for “desktop publishing.”
Soon, companies all over – including Tallahassee Magazine – were creating and publishing their own periodicals, pamphlets, brochures and newsletters using in-house computer equipment that eliminated costly overhead.
“For example, Publish magazine reported that Dun & Bradstreet went from paying $11,543 per issue for the creation of its in-house newsletter … to $1,500 per issue by eliminating external design costs,” Reynolds wrote. “Similarly, their brochure costs plummeted from $37,355 per creation to $3,300.”
Keeping Our Environment in PerspectiveTrying to Balance the Needs of a Growing City with the Natural Beauty That’s a Big Part of Its Attraction
By Mike McLafferty
Before you begin writing this article, go up to the 22nd floor of the Capitol building and look out the windows,” instructs veteran Tallahassee City Commissioner Debbie Lightsey in her confident Southern drawl. “What you’ll see is truly amazing,”
And so I stood in the lobby of the Capitol, patiently waiting for the elevator to propel me to the 22nd floor of the looming structure, thinking to myself: “I’ve lived in Tallahassee for five years now – how different can the town really look from the top of this building?” Little did I know how right Lightsey would be. My perspective on Tallahassee would soon be altered forever.
As I stepped out onto the top level and gazed out the windows to the town below, I can honestly say I barely recognized the place where I’ve spent the last half-decade of my life. Lush and vibrant green trees burst out all around me; our lil’ ol’ Tallahassee is literally surrounded by an abundance of beautiful nature.
The historic buildings scattered around downtown are peppered with tufts of foliage, the university areas are enrobed by nature, and even the perpetually busy Apalachee Parkway seemed almost serene when looking at it from this angle, hugged by the green hue of the trees.
But where have I been? How can a person live in a city for five years and never notice the beautiful and plentiful environment that surrounds him? I guess when you’re used to being stuck in traffic on North Monroe trying to make your way home during rush hour, you tend to take things like nature for granted.
Lightsey, who has lived in Tallahassee since 1984 and has been a member of the City Commission since 1989, has a genuine love for the environment that surrounds our community and strives to make sure the environment of Tallahassee evolves in the right direction.
“Tallahassee was just so beautiful,” Lightsey says as she discusses her reasons for moving here. “If you travel anywhere else in Florida you don’t see all this green, you don’t see all the rolling terrain, you don’t see all the real trees and lakes. It was the natural beauty that really sealed the deal when we were looking for a place to move to when we left the Washington, D.C., area.”
“When I first moved to Tallahassee, I-10 ended at Monroe Street,” says Brian Will, president of New South Homes Inc. and president of the Tallahassee Builders Association. When he moved to Tallahassee in November 1973, “Woodgate was ‘new’ and Killearn Estates was too far out! Perhaps we don’t notice dramatic changes when we see our place day after day, but I feel like Tallahassee has retained much of the feel and look environmentally that it has always had,” he says. “Yes, we’ve grown, but we’ve planted hundreds of thousands of trees.
Forests that were saplings 30 years ago are seen as ‘old growth’ by kids and newcomers today.”
The natural beauty of Tallahassee is not only one of its greatest assets but also one of its most fragile. Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen Florida’s capital city undergo an amazing transformation as urbanization began creeping into previously untouched environments. Lightsey insists it’s important to monitor development closely in order to maintain that special “natural” feel that sets Tallahassee apart from much of Florida.
“I think there’s a general recognition that we don’t want to lose that beautiful green aspect of the city,” Lightsey says. “In the early years when I was here, there was a complete disconnect between the environmental community and the business community … but within the last eight years or so, the business community is realizing that quality of life is how you sell yourself. A clean, beautiful, healthy and thriving environment is vastly important to the quality of life. So, within the last few years, we’ve seen the environmental community and the business community recognize that they have common goals, because you can’t rape and destroy the environment in the name of economic development and jobs and get anywhere in today’s world because the mindset has changed.”
It’s a sentiment Will echoes.
“All the developers I know understand that the natural beauty of our area is a component of the quality of life in the Big Bend Region,” he says.
But the undeniable truth is that Tallahassee has exploded in terms of population growth over the last 30 years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in Tallahassee in 1970 was 72,624 people, while the 2006 census survey shows the population has more than doubled to 154,062. With such rapid growth, it’s indisputable that our area has to evolve in order to accommodate the changing population, which means natural resources have to be altered.
One of Tallahassee’s most significant ways to manage such growth is through annexation. According to the city of Tallahassee, in early 1979 the city covered a total of 26.15 square miles. By January 2004, the city had expanded to more than 100 square miles by incorporating outlying areas into the city limits.
“If you don’t grow, then you stagnate, but you have to be very careful how you grow – and I think that’s what we’ve tried to do here,” Lightsey says. “You can do it if you’re careful and if you spend a little extra money to get the quality that you want. And that’s the way we’ve tried to do things in this government and community.”
One of the major environmental issues our community has dealt with over the past three decades has been the constant battle to protect the area’s premium water quality and surrounding lakes. Tallahassee sits atop the Floridan Aquifer, not only one of the most productive aquifers in the world but also where our drinking water is stored. But the downside is that when pesticides and other pollutants dispersed on the ground manage to seep through, they can taint the aquifer – and the regional water supply.
When proper steps are taken during new construction, the water supply can be protected, but unfortunately, in the recent past, it hasn’t always worked that way.
In the early 1970s, Lake Jackson began experiencing severe damage due to urbanization in the surrounding community and the construction of Interstate 10. Stormwater runoff in the area caused large amounts of silt sediment to begin infiltrating the lake, and long stretches of turbid water became increasingly evident in the lake.
What most people don’t realize is that, in Tallahassee, all the lakes are “closed,” meaning that whatever enters the lake only leaves by evaporation or seepage into the groundwater. There is no surface outflow to flush out the pollutants.
A 1990 Tallahassee Magazine article covered the controversial topic in a story headlined “Can We Save Lake Jackson?” written by Marjorie Turnbull. The story discussed how the mounting danger of stormwater runoff and urbanization in the area could collectively ruin the lake.
“In a 1975 report the Division of State Planning noted that ‘Lake Jackson will lose its present recreational, aesthetic and natural value if urbanization continues without adequate regard for the natural functions of the watershed and without strictly enforced regulations to the quality and quantity of surface runoff entering the lake,’” the article read.
Not exactly the most positive news at the time, considering that Lake Jackson annually brought in almost $10 million to the local economy because of its world-renowned bass fishing.
Since that article was written more than 17 years ago, many rules and regulations in terms of stormwater runoff have been incorporated to save water supplies from contamination, and nonprofit groups such as the Friends of Lake Jackson have formed to clean up and fight for the preservation of our lakes.
“We have such diversity here,” Lightsey says. “Twelve physiographic regions come together here in Leon County. There’s the red clay hills, there’s the sand hills and the coastal plain … we have this huge ecological diversity here, and when you have that, you have to recognize the value it has – and it’s now being recognized in the ecotourism industry. So it’s not just ‘tree huggers’ like myself that care about this, there’s a business reason to care about this now.”
With the past 30 years breezing by, we have witnessed huge advances in our community. Some have been enthusiastically welcomed, others have found approval after skeptical, lukewarm receptions, and still others – most notably the clearcutting of land to accommodate “big box” stores – are sure to raise the ire of nearby residents.
“Welaunee, Fallschase and SouthWood are the Killearns of the future,” says Will, who feels that these huge new communities will flourish in the next 30 years because of the master plan each one has laid out for long-term success. “At a modest 2-percent growth rate per year, we will more than double in population in the next 30 years. As a community, we need to look closely at how exclusive vs. affordable we want our regulations to be.”
And although Lightsey sees the evolution of Tallahassee through a different looking glass, she is confident that growth in the city will equate to greater successes all around.
“I think you will see us economically stronger,” she says. “I think you’re going to see a town that has kept its beauty and charm, but is much more vibrant and economically diversified.
And a lot of good things come from that. You get a lot of strong support for your school system, you get a lot of support for arts and culture, and you get continued support for the thing that has always been important to me – which is the environment.”
Who knows where the next 30 years will lead – and which opportunities Tallahassee will embrace and which it will rebuff. But it’s refreshing to know that, even 22 stories up in the air, we can still enjoy the nature that exists around us.
From the Pages of Tallahassee Magazine: “In Search of … a Research Park” Summer 1979
Who knew that an old dairy farm could end up housing one of the area’s greatest research and testing facilities? Tallahassee Magazine sure did! Pat Harbolt writes about the initial idea for Innovation Park:
It is a vision shared by a small, enthusiastic group of business leaders, educators, and government officials who want to see a 228-acre section of the old FSU dairy farm transformed into what has been dubbed ‘Innovation Park-Tallahassee.’”
Their job will be to develop a university-related research park on the site in southwest Tallahassee, and to attract to the park firms interested in research and applied technology.
“The Myth of the Seven Hills” September/October 1993
Back in the early ’90s, Sherri Stokes wrote an article dissecting one of the biggest folklores of our area: the myth about the Seven Hills of Tallahassee:
Although it is a commonly held belief by many Tallahasseans, the Seven Hills of Tallahassee is in fact, purely legend. Oral tradition tells us that the site chosen for Tallahassee’s founding in 1824 was parallel to the Seven Hills of Rome. In reality, there is no person or historical document to substantiate this claim.
Whatever Tallahasseans have come to call their hills, they are without a doubt, testaments to the pride and devotion generations of citizens have bestowed upon them.
“North South” November/December 1993
Julie S. Bettinger wrote an explosive piece on the controversy over the quality of land development in the north and south sides of town back in 1993:
The reason [for differences in developmental quality] is that often the land on one side of town is developed later and conforms to more stringent regulations, making it inevitable that the homes and buildings are more modern. Aesthetics alone act as a conduit for newer development, which often leaves another part of town lagging.
“There’s always been more affluent residential growth to the north and northeast,” says Will Butler, a real-estate consultant and appraiser with Boutin, Brown, Butler Real Estate Services, “In turn, that’s going to be followed by commercial growth, while more industrial uses have traditionally been located to the south due to the poor quality of land.’”
Thirty Years of EatingRestaurant Chains, Healthy Eating, Year-Round Food Choices and Government Rules All Have Had Major Impacts on the Business of Eating in Tallahassee
By Rosanne Dunkelberger
If you were sitting down together for a meal 30 years ago today, chances are it was at home, prepared by Mom, and red meat took center stage. A McDonald’s burger would cost you 43 cents (although the next year, the company would drop the price by a nickel). This time of year at Publix, you’d find abundant, cheap fresh watermelon and corn and probably not be able to get much in the way of broccoli and cauliflower.
If it was your birthday or your anniversary, you might have prime rib or lobster at the Silver Slipper, beef tournedos at Andrew’s 2nd Act or, if you were in the mood for Chinese, head over to Lucy Ho’s. In 1978, Outback, TGI Fridays and other national and regional chain restaurants were things of the future.
At the Grocery Store
The hands-down winner in grocery stores locally has been Publix, which had two locations in Tallahassee three decades ago and now has 12. Back then, “competition was traditional,” says Dwaine Stevens, a Jacksonville-based spokesman for the supermarket chain. “Now there are non-traditional (read: Wal-Mart) and niche market competitors in the market.
“The variety and number of food offerings were certainly far less than what they are today, and less complex,” Stevens says. Trends such as a desire for more natural and organic foods as well as foods from other parts of the world have increased the assortment of offerings too. Store sizes are more functional now, and vary depending on the needs of different areas within Tallahassee.
Stevens says Publix now is in competition for “our share of the stomach” not just with grocery stores, but also with restaurants.
“As you know, our society has become extremely fast-paced, and we are striving to satisfy that customer that desires fresh and superior quality products on the go,” he says. Food prepared on site – such as subs, rotisserie chicken and sushi – “continues to be an important and growing category.” Publix has also expanded its horizons with the opening of Crispers, a freestanding restaurant chain operated by the Lakeland-based grocery chain. Tallahassee’s Crispers opened in the fall of 2004.
It’s a fact of life: America eats out more than ever before – three or four times a week, a number quoted by Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association President and CEO Carol Dover – and she even thinks that’s low.
“Everybody eats out,” she says. “I love to cook, and we still eat out nights during the week. Our parents didn’t work like we work … To get home (after work) and cook … nobody wants to do that.”
Ask anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the industry, and they’ll tell you that Tallahassee’s restaurant business falls into two distinct eras that changed around the mid-1980s – B.C. and A.C. (That’s Before Chains and After Chains.)
In the B.C. era, it was the heyday of the independent restaurateur – but in the early days, the variety of cuisine was slim pickins.
Dover, who came to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University in 1975, recalls that the popular restaurants included the Brown Derby, Sea Fox and Mom & Dad’s. Downtown restaurateur Andy Reiss came here in 1968, also to attend FSU, and would add the Silver Slipper and Joe’s Spaghetti House to that short list.
There was no Chinese food (although Lucy Ho would appear on the scene shortly afterward), no continental cuisine and – an omission that cut to the gut of a Jewish kid from South Florida – no delicatessen.
“There was no deli, there was no corned beef or pastrami, no bagel,” Reiss recalls. “I’m not talking about some far-out cuisine, I’m talking about a deli.”
Reiss and his wife, Maxin, would leave FSU and travel the world a bit, but he never forgot that missing culinary link. When, in 1973, he was offered the opportunity to open a restaurant in a building on the corner of Adams Street, he knew just what it would be – a deli. When he and Maxin returned to Tallahassee (she would be studying for a Ph.D. in psychology), the building was still occupied by a previous tenant. So Reiss did a bit of “research” by standing on the corner and asking people what sorts of foods they weren’t getting at the nearby Morrison’s (“Morrison’s Cafeteria opened my eyes because there was a water fountain for negroes only. That was in my lifetime.”) or the State Bakery, a bakery that also sold sandwiches. “It was the kind of place that had egg salad on white bread with green olives,” he says.
What the market wanted, he learned, was a burger. And so, in addition to the deli staples, he added hamburgers, hot dogs and fries to the menu and opened his first Tallahassee eatery, called The Deli.
“We were mobbed,” Reiss recalls of the first day. “I had a $300 break-even point, and the first day we did $400 or $500. I was ecstatic.”
He would add his upscale Andrew’s 2nd Act two years later in the building’s lower level and then head upstairs to create the jazz bar Maxin’s (1977) and elegant Italian eatery Tutto Bene (1979).
“It was so easy to come up with new concepts for Tallahassee, because there weren’t any concepts,” Reiss recalls.
It was good times for the Silver Slipper, recalls Bill Kalfas, now the third generation to operate the legendary restaurant, which opened in 1938. The original incarnation burned to the ground in 1974 and reopened in a “temporary” location in the lower level of what was then the Northwood Mall on North Monroe Street, where it would stay until it moved into its current facility near the Tallahassee Mall. Of the decade spent “behind the dumpsters” at Northwood Mall, Kalfas says, “It was the most lucrative 10 years we ever had.”
And then – starting in about the mid-1980s – the chains arrived. Well funded, highly conceptualized and well suited to Tallahassee’s penchant for patronizing the newest restaurant in town (Kalfas says there’s a name for it: “The Tallahassee Rush”), the mid-priced, casual chain restaurants, such as Outback, Ruby Tuesday and TGI Friday’s, struck at the heart of Tallahassee’s independently owned eateries.
“It’s a chain town now,” Reiss admits. “The chains, they’re hard to compete with. They not only have the money to buy the real estate and build it right to begin with, they have huge purchasing advantages.” Also, he says, people who move to Tallahassee from bigger cities may have already developed a taste for, say, Chili’s, in their hometown. They will naturally gravitate to the restaurant when they move here, making Chili’s and others of its type “very formidable in the market.”
Kalfas is much less charitable to the out-of-town competition.
“I don’t believe in the chains. I think it’s the worst thing in the world that’s come to Tallahassee,” he says. “If you don’t like me, fine, but please spend it with a local person. You don’t see (chains’) names on the scoreboards at the high schools or at church functions. Please spend it with Dick Anthony (owner of Anthony’s) or Andy (Reiss) or George (Koikos, owner of Georgio’s and Torreya Grill). Keep the money so it works in Tallahassee.”
And that’s an attitude that carries over to purchases for his business – he patronizes local firms for his produce and seafood – and in his personal shopping.
“I don’t go to Wal-Mart,” Kalfas says. “If there’s a local hardware store, I try to spend my money there. I won’t buy a car any place but a Tallahassee dealer.”
“What I hear here is not unlike anything I hear in any other city, and that is, ‘The chains are killing us. The chains are hurting the independent operator,’” says association executive Dover. “And there is no doubt they probably are in many cases.”
What’s government got to do with it?
And the influence is twofold.
For starters, between the state offices and higher education, government is the industry here in town. While the education level of the average resident is high and palate sophisticated enough to enjoy Kool Beanz, Sage, Cypress and Mozaik, the vast majority of folks in this town aren’t pulling in top salaries or being issued American Express Gold cards to do business.
“Sure you have a sophisticated palate, but how many times a year area you going out and dropping a hundred bucks or more for two for dinner? Your anniversary? Birthday?” Reiss asks.
While he had a successful 27-year run with Andrew’s 2nd Act, when he reopened a new restaurant in the space, Reiss purposefully made Andrew’s 228 “more casual, more contemporary and more reasonable.”
The second government influence is the often unforeseen consequences of regulations and legislation.
Many restaurants took a big hit in July 2004 when a statewide referendum banning smoking in workplaces and most food-service settings took effect.
“I am thrilled personally having a smoking ban. I’m not a believer in smoking,” says Kalfas. But the ban “hurt me probably half a million dollars a year for two years.” Almost immediately afterward, smoking was allowed in most outdoor settings, leading to the addition of an outside deck on Kalfas’ Silver Slipper and several other Tallahassee restaurants.
It would turn into a one-two punch in 2005 when the Legislature enacted a law banning lobbyists from giving legislators any meals, trips or gifts. While the ban was statewide, it was the equivalent of a knockout blow for Tallahassee.
“We’re not allowed to give ’em a glass of water,” says lobbyist Dover. “We bank heavily on our government and our Legislature, and to take that away was just painful. For a hundred years, one thing that was a given was in March, April … actually all the way back to committee meetings … it’s slammed.”
“We have an infrastructure that comes into this town, not unlike the snowbirds that move south, and then to strike it from the book is like telling South Florida, ‘Northerners are no longer allowed to cross the border and come to South Florida in the winter,’” Dover says. “What would that do to the economy of South Florida?”
Kalfas says he lost $1 million in sales because of the ban.
“The bad thing was, that’s high-end sales,” he explains. “Ninety-five percent of my year’s profits were off that money. The ban has really hurt. I think you’re going to see in the next two years, if the ban doesn’t go away, we’re going to have lost 90 percent of our hometown flair.”
Reiss says his strong lunchtime business “paid the mortgage,” but “session would bail me out.”
“I would get to a session and I would get my bills caught up, and then I’d go into a summer where I’d go back in the hole.”
What the Future Holds
Reiss says evolution is the secret to his success. Some examples: dropping down to a more manageable two restaurants, offering a menu with lighter, less expensive entrées, giving up on attracting patrons from the northeast part of town and catering to the younger clientele nearby, and taking on a partner in the downtown building. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association took over the upstairs, which paid for major renovations that made the building more energy-efficient and added fire sprinklers and handicapped accessibility.
“We’ve adapted to the market over and over and over again,” he says. “That’s why I’m still here.”
The big-money days are over for the Silver Slipper in its current incarnation, says Kalfas. Because of a land lease and high overhead, “it takes several million to break even every year.
“The whole reason I’m here is this is my social life,” he says. “I love to see my friends and have a glass of wine and talk.” Kalfas is already working with the fourth generation, his son, Wes, at the Silver Slipper, but says the restaurant’s future might be a much smaller operation located in the northeast part of town. “Without the Legislature, there’s no reason to be toward downtown at all.”
And then there are the chains.
Dover says the time has come for a white-tablecloth, high-end steakhouse (think Ruth’s Chris, Fleming’s, Houston’s or Shula’s) to appear in Tallahassee. Several of these have been in negotiations to locate in one of the newly built downtown condominiums.
“They’re all looking at (having) really nice dining concepts in the lobby,” which would add to the appeal for potential buyers, Dover says.
After 50 years in business, IHOP is coming to Tallahassee, with locations planned on North Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway.
And then there’s the Holy Grail of chains, the Cheesecake Factory, with its whopping big menu, abundant portions and 50 dessert selections. Reiss says Tallahassee isn’t big enough to warrant the investment by the parent company, but Dover has had her ear to the ground.
“I know there’s been talk about a Cheesecake Factory coming here, so I am not sure that we won’t eventually see one over time – but maybe not just within a year or two,” Dover says.
From the Pages of Tallahassee Magazine: An Early Retrospective on Restaurateur Andy Reiss
The Tallahassee Magazine Dining Guide has been a fixture in the publication since its fourth issue, published in the winter of 1979. The format hasn’t changed much since then – listings of Tallahassee’s best places to eat, with information to help potential diners decide which restaurants might fit what they’re craving and their budget. Occasionally a story or photo about a hot new chef, interesting new eatery or long-time local favorite spot would appear. Here’s what writer Ann M. Conn had to say about a youngish Andy Reiss in the magazine’s Spring 1989 issue.
Andy Reiss Restaurateur
By Ann M. Conn
“I’m the young father of an old downtown,” says Andy Reiss proudly. In 1973 when downtown was about as fashionable as last year’s birdnest, Andy began bringing new life into the decrepit area. Soon after receiving a master’s degree from FSU, Andy started the Deli on Adams Street within view of the razed area destined to be the new Capitol. “When I came here the new Capitol was a hole in the ground and Morrison’s cafeteria had moved out to the Tallahassee Mall.
“Since I’ve come, we’ve gotten the Capitol, City Hall, Downtown Garage, Civic Center and Adams Street Common. I was here before all those things.” The once shabby Adams Street, refurbished and renamed, provides a place for strollers to “loaf and invite the soul” on a pedestrian thoroughfare.
Reiss hasn’t been loafing. His small Deli has expanded into three distinctive restaurants with seating for nearly two thousand. His Epicurean Caterers is the largest in North Florida. Now one of the largest unfranchised food service deliverers in the country, his business is still growing.
Andy enjoys being on the forefront of change. “I brought the first corned beef sandwich to Tallahassee,” he proclaims. He operates a sophisticated international cuisine in his three restaurants that has won eleven Golden Spoon awards. “I’ve changed the food service business in Tallahassee.”
Andy and his wife Maxin are a working team. “Without her all this wouldn’t have happened,” Andy explains. She’s in charge of a superior employee training program as well as accounting, baking, butchering and bottled wine sales. She is also a practicing psychologist with her own behavior management consulting firm. At home she and Andy share responsibilities in bringing up their two daughters, Alyson and Dana.
Regarding future plans for downtown, Andy declares, “We’re getting on the map.” The new plans for the area bounded by Pensacola and College on one side and Bronough and Duval on the other are now underway. The plans include a 450-bed convention hotel. In the mixed-use project there will also be retail stores, offices and 1,400 parking spaces. “Downtown Tallahassee is coming back,” he says, “the energy is on the streets.” Andy could talk all day about his favorite city.
Remember eating here?
An incomplete listing of restaurants that have come – and gone – in Tallahassee, and what we recall about eating there.
B Merrill’s Exceptional chicken wings and an overwhelming selection of beers from around the world
Buckhead Brewery Bison burgers and a lodge-like atmosphere not found here before or since.
Brown Derby Great prime rib and a legendary drink known as “The Grog” that came in a fish-bowl-sized glass.
Steak and Ale One of the first to offer the now ubiquitous salad bar.
El Chico A little bit Tex and a little bit Mex.
The Mill Bakery, Eatery and Brewery Many a diet was derailed by patrons who ate “just one” of their behemoth muffins.
Rooster’s Hopping bar scene and a unique concept – cook your own steak over an open fire pit. It would burn down under mysterious circumstances and Roadhouse, now also defunct, would open on its North Monroe Street location.
Hall’s Landing On Lake Talquin, the menu featured fried frog legs and all-you-can-eat catfish.
Joe’s Spaghetti House An old-school Italian restaurant with a happy atmosphere.
Talquin Inn Delicious pan-seared steaks in a skillet. And a famous house salad dressing you can still enjoy at Paradise Grill because owner Fincher Smith bought the recipe.
Cork & Cleaver Known for its wine, steak and great service.
Mutt & Jeff’s The quintessential high-school hangout on the corner of North Meridian Road and Seventh Avenue, serving hotdogs, hamburgers and shakes.